To appreciate the similarities, we must first consider the differences. The piano is a musical instrument that unlike poetry, is tangible. You can touch and feel the cool keys as your hands glide over them as well as feel the resisting pressure as you press the peddle under your foot. Poetry on the other hand, while capable of being seen, you cannot touch the words themselves. Who of you can say what the word that feels like?
The piano is also a harmonious instrument that is often accompanied by another instrument or even several different types. A whole orchestra can play, but if you listen closely the piano is still distinguishable. On the other hand, try having two people read two different poems at the same time. The task in itself is easy to do, but what you hear is not a harmonious melody, but a jumble of words that produce a confusing effect on the listener.
Poetry and pianos are similar though, in that they contain a rhythm. Although, a poet won’t sing his poem, an affluent reader can make his words vivid and smoothly transition between lines and stanzas, creating a music-like effect. In reading a poem it is important to capture the pace, intensity, and meaning of what the poet is trying to convey. Piano songs also contain a structured rhythm indicated after the clef on the music sheet from which you play. Often, you’ll even find yourself subconsciously tapping your foot to the rhythm of the song. The rhythm is the backbone to a song or poem and directs the flow and attitude.
And obvious similarity, is that it takes somebody to write a poem or play the piano. A fact often unnoticed and unappreciated is that every song or poem created came from some person’s imagination. It takes a person’s hand to write down a word or strike a key and this combined with my previous statement on imagination leads to my next similarity.
Having so many words and musical notes to pick from, the outcome of each person’s creativity results in something completely different from the next person. One person motivated by sadness my create a more slow, somber, and melancholy piece. A person overwhelmed by happiness may create a faster, upbeat song or poem. It all depends on time, emotion and vastness of vocabulary in the case of a piano creativity with different keys and chords. The product of each person’s imagination is almost endless.
Both poems and songs are just scribbles on paper unless you have someone to bring them to life. They are similar in the respect that both poetry and sheet music can be read. The only difference is how it is read. While poems can be read in their written form, just as it is, reading sheet music takes a little more effort and wouldn’t sound that great if you read it for what it was. Reading off your sheet you might get: G chord, C chord, D, E, C and who would honestly enjoy that? No, the pianist must in effect “read” the music with his fingers after interpreting from the page which keys to play.
Some have even combined piano and poetry together to form poetic songs. An example of this is French composer Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. Ravel composed three pieces for piano in 1908, basing them on poems by Aloysius Bertrand. All three of which are beautiful and showcased his talent and mastery in the piano. Also translated into English by Michael Benedikt. Maurice’s piano compositions show that poems can be rendered, modified, or transformed into music that is pleasing to the ears. Below is an excerpt from one of his three songs, entitled Ondine:
Listen!–Listen!–it”s me down here, Ondine, splashing all these droplets against your casement windowpanes so that they echo, here in the dim, regretful moonlight; and up there, high above us in her black silk dress, is the chateau”s lady upon her balcony, gazing out at this beautiful starry night and at my lovely, sleeping lake.
We have just begun scratching the surface of the many marvels of poetry and the piano. All the more so, I hope my brief analysis of the differences and similarities of poetry and the piano has helped you appreciate a new aspect or unravel some sort of unfound revelation. Perhaps take a second glance at the seemingly boring, everyday things.